Negative wh-quantifiers in Cantonese: a syntactic proposal and an investigation of adult English-Cantonese interlanguage.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis is a two-fold research project looking at the syntactic account and second language (L2) acquisition of the colloquial Cantonese negative wh-quantifiers (Neg-whQ). I propose a (Neg-wh)QP structure accounting for Neg-whQs (e.g. mou-bingo ‘nobody’, mou-matje ‘nothing’ and mou-bindou ‘nowhere’), which are composed by the negative morpheme mou, an unpronounced quantifier operator Ø and a wh-phrase. Thus, a Neg-whQ inherits [Neg] and [Quant:_] features. While SVO is the canonical word order in Cantonese, Neg-whQ observes the exceptional SOV structure. This study aims to provide a feature-based approach to explain the overt movement phenomenon Neg-whQs embody which accounts for the dual interpretation of Neg-whQobj constructions, the negative and existential ‘only a few’ readings. In addition, this study fills the gap and looks at the little studied L2 acquisition of Neg-whQs in Cantonese by adult English speaking learners. In the absence of a one-to-one morphological mapping between English Neg-whQs (e.g. nowhere) and Cantonese Neg-whQs, this study investigates claims from previous studies (Slabakova, 2006, 2008, 2010) about problems with the functional morphology in L2 acquisition. The ambiguity arises from a scrambled doubly quantified sentence at syntax-semantics interface is considered a poverty-of-the- stimulus (POS) problem (Schwartz and Sprouse, 2000) since the relevant facts are underdetermined by L2 learners’ first language (L1) grammar and the L2 input. The L2 study is manipulated to test learners’ acceptance of the SOV structure regarding Neg-whQobj constructions and their ability to fully understand the implied meanings of Neg-whQs. The findings support Slabakova’s bottleneck hypothesis that Neg-whQs pose a challenge to L2 learners and delay L2 acquisition of overt movement and interpretations at morphology-syntax and syntax-semantics interfaces. However, individual advanced L2 learners overcame the POS problem and showed native-like competence of Cantonese Neg-whQs. Thus, Schwartz and Sprouse’s (1994, 1996) Full Access of the Full Transfer/Full Access model is also supported.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of York
  • Marsden, Heather, Supervisor, External person
Award date7 Aug 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 Apr 2014


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